Albright's Big Week Heralds Rosy Future He Practiced With The U.s. Soccer Team And Is On The Roster For A Match Today With Argentina.

Posted: June 13, 1999

HERNDON, Va. — Even if Chris Albright never steps on the field for the U.S. men's national soccer team during today's game against Argentina, last week already qualifies as a career highlight.

U.S. coach Bruce Arena said he named the 20-year-old, just two years removed from the Penn Charter School, to the roster for today's friendly at Washington's RFK Stadium because ``we wanted to give him a message that he's a guy we're looking at for the future. And we wanted to get him in this environment to demonstrate not only to himself, but to us, where he is at.''

A year ago at this time, Albright was looking to demonstrate that he could just be the main man for the University of Virginia. He was a preseason second-team all-American. That, however, was before he scored 21 goals for the Cavaliers, earning first-team honors.

Then he skipped the spring semester and went to the World Youth Games in Nigeria, where he stood out for the U.S. under-20-year-old team, which knocked off England and advanced to the second round before losing to eventual champion Spain by just 3-2.

All of a sudden, big-time European professional clubs were interested in Albright. He was the only under-20 team player Arena brought into this national team camp.

``I'm taking it day by day,'' Albright, a Philadelphia native who moved to Merchantville when he was 11, said Thursday after the national team practiced at the suburban Virginia training facility of Major League Soccer's D.C. United team.

After a strong initial practice on Monday, in which he proved he could free himself up and find the net, Albright talked to his Virginia coach, George Gelnovatch. ``He said to make that practice your standard rather than the exception,'' Albright said. ``Every day, I'm trying to keep a standard of play that is acceptable and shows that I can play with these guys.''

Mission accomplished. Albright fits in perfectly at practice. And his booming shot stands out.

``Athletically, he's doesn't take a back seat to anybody here,'' Arena said. ``He's demonstrated that he can be a dangerous forward playing our guys. You get him in a good environment every day, he's going to demonstrate eventually that he's a national team player and potentially a very good forward.''

That's exactly what he was hoping to show.

``I guess I'm just focused on doing the things that I'm good at, and not trying to do other things, not trying to be a real technical player, because I'm never going to be that, but trying to use my athleticism,'' said Albright, who also trained with the United the previous week.

Despite the professional interest, Albright, whose father played for Temple and whose uncle coaches Villanova, still plans to return to Virginia for one more season. After completing the fall semester while playing for the Cavaliers, he will decide on his future.

``I promised George that I would be back in the fall,'' he said. ``I gave him my word on that. Also, I'd like to go back.''

Leaving Virginia ``would put [Gelnovatch] in a tough situation,'' he said. In recent years, the team has been depleted by several defections to the pro ranks.

However, with all that has happened to him in the last couple of months, Albright said that if he hadn't already made the decision to return, ``it might have changed.''

After his strong showing in Nigeria, European powerhouse Bayern Munich, the German titlist and runner-up in the Champions League, inquired about Albright's interest in playing for its reserve team. A Spanish professional club was interested in him for its first team.

``My thinking was that there maybe would be some more options in January,'' Albright said. ``There are some options now in Europe, and certainly MLS is always an option, but I'm hoping that there are some more things I'll be able to look at.''

Playing in Europe has always been Albright's first priority. National team players are telling him he has the right idea.

``I've talked to guys here, that's what they're telling me: `If you have a chance to go, and it's a good situation, then go. You can always come back and play here,' '' Albright said. ``I talk to all of them. I'm trying to pick everybody's brain.''

His decision to hold off turning pro catches a lot of people by surprise.

``Some of my friends who aren't even into soccer really, they hear professional soccer, professional anything, and they think it's all bright lights and glory, but it's not,'' Albright said. ``It's a tough decision, and if you're going to make the decision, you've got to know you're going to be in a good situation and not have to struggle.''

In the meantime, he's racking up life experiences, such as going to Nigeria. ``We were pretty much confined to the hotel, and that was fine by us,'' Albright said. ``It was 95 degrees outside, and we had Nintendo and air conditioning inside.''

Arena doesn't want to move Albright along too quickly, or give people the wrong idea about where he stands. Arena said he isn't considering taking Albright to next month's FIFA Confederations Cup in Mexico, where the U.S. will play world powers Germany and Brazil, as well as New Zealand.

Albright is certainly in strong consideration for next year's under-23 team that will play in the Olympics in Sydney, and Arena said he would be brought back into the camp for future matches.

``I'm hoping Albright can make all-ACC next year,'' Arena joked when Albright was within earshot.

This week provided Albright with a comfort level by showing him that he won't be overmatched against professionals. He's low-key about it, but said it was an honor to be playing against some of the players he grew up watching.

``I wasn't that positive,'' Albright said of how he would match up. ``I have confidence in my play, but I guess I didn't know. I was wondering how I stood. I mean, I know I can at least run around with these guys. I've still got my young legs. I'm running against some guys who are 29. That's helpful.''

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